September 03 2012 10:19AM
The title of this post was originally set to be ‘All I Want for Christmas Is..’, before a last minute change. I figured it would be just a tad bit too cheesy. But then again, that has never seemed to get in my way in the past. And it would have made sense timing-wise, given the fact that –by the looks of how CBA negotiations are coming along, or more accurately, not coming along - the earliest I’ll be able to see it in action will likely be in December.
The dream is simple. I want to see the Vancouver Canucks deploy a third line consisting of Jannik Hansen, Max Lapierre, and Chris Higgins. That’s a reasonable desire, right?
If you think about it, it makes too much sense for it not to happen. But then again, it can be a cruel world out there, and sometimes you just don’t get what you want. Plus, there are a few things that would need to fall into place to allow it to unfold.
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The Wrecking Crew
Last season, the third line was primarily used as a showcase for Cody Hodgson. I have spent more than enough time discussing the merits, and drawbacks, of that particular venture. This won't be a platform for me to rehash those sentiments. I hope for bigger and better things from that unit this coming season.
Before we get the chance to see the Hansen-Lapierre-Higgins trifecta, though, a few things need to fall into place.
The Canucks need someone to finally step up, and take control of the right wing spot alongside Ryan Kesler and David Booth. Whether it’s Zack Kassian, Mason Raymond, or a player that isn’t even on the team yet – that will likely acquired in a potential Roberto Luongo trade – someone needs to prove that they can hang on that second scoring line.
Higgins filled that role rather admirably last year, but it’s no secret that he was in over his head. He was actually fairly effective there, but ideally, he’s causing havoc for the opposition from your third line. He would be amongst the elite in the entire NHL filling that particular role, too.
A bigger hurdle may be Alain Vigneault’s seeming reluctance to hand the third line center gig over to Max Lapierre. Fellow ‘soldier’ Jeff Angus, and yours truly, have gone into extensive detail this summer on this very topic.
It’s rather curious that Vigneault chose not to use Lapierre in that role last season, especially considering how tremendous he was in it during the run to the Stanley Cup final. It’s hard to believe that he’ll have any another choice this season, though. With Sami Pahlsson out of the picture, and Manny Malhotra simply not being the player he was as recently as two years ago, there aren’t exactly many other options. Lapierre may win the spot by default – and that's fine. All that matters is that he eventually gets there.
Just the thought of these three playing together makes me giddy. I consider myself a connoisseur of the little things in hockey, which fly under the radar, but remain so fundamentally important to the game. While the stars are scoring all of the pretty goals, and making the highlight reels, it’s the role players that do the necessary dirty work. Without it, you're just not winning games.
Making Life Easier For Others
Ideally, you want your third line to play the role of the ‘enabler’. You stick them against the other team’s best players, opening up offensive roles for your more skilled players.
The biggest winner would unquestionably be Ryan Kesler. Following his 40-goal campaign in 2010-11, he was asked to play a far more defensive role this past season. With that added defensive responsibility, his goal production suffered, and he seemed to have lost his ‘mojo’. Opening the ice up for Kesler could do wonders for the Canucks, not only in the regular season, but moving into the playoffs as well. If they plan on making any sort of noise in the playoffs, they need that Kesler of old - the one oozing of confidence, making things happen all over the ice.
But this lines impact on the game would stretch far past their exploits in their own zone. The three of them combined for 43 goals last season. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it is. Getting that sort of production from your third line to complement what the Sedins do, and what Kesler’s line does, is a recipe for success.
Other than the obvious fact that they have featured great talent on their roster, one of the main reasons the Canucks have found so much success in recent years has been the way in which they have deployed their players. The coaching staff is well aware of the assets it has, and their strengths and weaknesses. This may sound like the most obvious concept ever, but given how some teams are run, it’s not – the Canucks tailor their gameplan around their players’ individual skillsets. In doing so, they optimize their chances for success, allowing their guys to flourish.
There would be a positive trickle-down effect thanks to the combination of Higgins, Hansen, and Lapierre playing together. Boy, would it make for great television, too.
A boy can dream. And for all we know, this particular dream has a legitimate chance of coming true next season.